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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ducat Offers Free Smokes for Veterans

Like years past, Victory Day will see thousands of World War II veterans with shiny medals pinned on their suits streaming through city parks. Grateful well-wishers will present them with fragrant flowers and thank them for bravely fighting off the Germans.

But in a new twist at the park by the Poklonnaya Gora war memorial this year, the Ducat choir will strike up the well-known war song "Davai Zakurim," or "Let's Smoke," while U.S. tobacco giant Liggett-Ducat hands out to the veterans some 300,000 free packs of a special edition cigarette called - you guessed it - Davai Zakurim.

"It was made especially as a gift to the veterans," a company spokeswoman said Friday. "It is a strong brand, the kind they are used to smoking."

Those who aren't veterans but want to have a souvenir pack can plunk down 5 rubles (17 cents).

Liggett-Ducat, which has no plans to offer Davai Zakurim for sale in stores, said it is producing the anniversary edition cigarettes at its new Moscow plant as part of a larger drive to mark it own 100 years in Russia.

The U.S. company is one of the leading producers of cigarettes in the country. Its popular mid-tier and lower-end brands like Arbat, Moskovskie and Belomorkanal have helped it corner an estimated 15 percent share of the $6 billion-a-year market.

Not content to be left out of a sector growing at an annual clip of 5 percent, Liggett-Ducat moved from its old factory to a new, $85 million plant in southern Moscow last June. The company produced 25 billion cigarettes last year, Liggett-Ducat said in a statement.

By comparison, Philip Morris sold more than 40 billion cigarettes last year and its flagship brand Marlboro alone holds almost 17 percent of the market, according to market research firm COMCON. RJ Reynolds' locally produced Pyotr I is the best-selling cigarette with about a 30 percent market share.

This year, Liggett-Ducat's 28,000-square-meter plant is expected to churn out 30 billion cigarettes. The company said Friday that it had exceeded first quarter expectations and sold 10.1 billion cigarettes.

Liggett-Ducat, which like its rivals is traditionally tight-lipped about its activities and only Friday revealed details about its new plant, declined to disclose its investments in the country to date or provide additional financial information.

One reason the company decided to produce the anniversary edition cigarettes was that a sizeable number of World War II veterans are among the 1,700 people working at its plant, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.

As Liggett-Ducat shoots for a larger share of the cigarette market, officials said the company would launch three new brands in June - LD Superlights, LD Mint and an undisclosed brand that will retail for a moderate 9 to 11 rubles.

The Ducat side of Liggett-Ducat was founded at the turn of the century by Ilya Pigitom and has been popular with the army at least as far back as 1914, when it supplied World War I troops with tens of thousands of packs. Liggett-Ducat was formed in 1990 as a Soviet-American joint venture, and the Americans later bought out the local side.

The local cigarette market is considered to be the fourth largest in the world after China, the United States and Japan.